Mr. Mouse and I had an anniversary and a gift certificate recently, so we decided to try one of Portland’s swankiest kitchens, 555 (located at 555 Congress Street). We made a reservation a week in advance which turned out to be smart; despite the late seating on a Monday night, the restaurant’s dining room and bar were both bustling. The restaurant space is gorgeous - open kitchen (of course - it's Portland after all), copper detailing, an upper seating area around the balcony looking down at the main dining floor.
Since it was a school night, we opted out of pre-dinner cocktails and simply ordered a bottle of wine. We Mouses like reds from Chile, Australia and New Zealand (because we are not pretentious oenophiles, plus we’re cheap and these countries have a good quality/value ratio) and were pleased to discover plenty of these on the list, finally going with a Villa Maria Pinot Noir from New Zealand. I didn’t care for it that much at first, but as the bottle breathed and the wine warmed slightly, it was quite quaffable.
We split an order of the Blue Hill mussels as an appetizer which were just incredible. The mussels were tender and the creamy broth contained house pickled cherry peppers, chive butter and roasted garlic had a great kick to it. Thick slices of toasted bread came with for dipping and I caught Mr. Mouse sneaking a spoonful of just broth because it was just that good.
For dinner, I selected the pan grilled pork tenderloin served with a teeny, tender cornmeal biscuit, local green and yellow beans, chanterelles and some nutty grains. Mr. Mouse (who picks his entrees based on what they don’t have - no mushrooms, chunky or whole tomatoes or avocado) went with the cod, which I believe was served with some sort of roasted pepper remoulade and grains as well … although I didn’t get to sneak a bite for myself and thus am a little unclear on exactly what he had.
The portion sizes could have been slightly bigger: they certainly weren’t Hugo’s-tiny, thank goodness, and while it was good to depart without feeling overstuffed, I’m sure Mr. Mouse could have used a little more protein on his plate. The food was all fine, but nothing spectacular and not certainly not any better than what you’ll find in other higher-end Portland restaurants (like Bay Bay Grill, Vignola or Street & Co., etc.).
Here’s the thing about our dinner at 555: the service was terrible on the night we were there. Now, perhaps it’s because we were there on a Monday and the A-staff wasn’t on the floor, and maybe if we were to go back it would be better. But this is what we got. We arrived right on time for our reservation but were kept waiting while an older couple, who walked in behind us with a reservation for the same time, were seated first. The busgirl spilled water all over the table when she filled Mr. Mouse’s glass. It took at least ten minutes for our waiter to even stop by menus/wine list, and then he didn’t come back to take the drink order for another 5-10 minutes.
We finally ordered the appetizer and entrees all at once and then, after waiting with an empty table for 20ish minutes, the mussels came out at the same time as our meals. Our waiter apologized and whisked the entrees away; Mr. Mouse watched as they disappeared into the kitchen but couldn’t tell if they were simply being kept warm or if we were going to get fresh new meals (the pork tenderloin was not at all overdone, although the cod was crispy-outside/mushy-inside, so who knows). Then, we had to twiddle our thumbs with a bowl of empty mussel shells before being cleared and served our meals...
Long story short, we were kept waiting a LOT - before, after and in between courses – while we noticed other diners, seated after us, being well attended to. I didn’t take it personally but it was disappointing, especially given the excellent level of service we have received from the above-mentioned other higher-end Portland restaurants. 555 is one of the few Maine restaurants that seems to always get a mention in the big glossy food and wine magazines. I’m sure its reputation is well-deserved but for the money we paid, the experience we got was lacking.
7 minutes ago